Interview: I Love You, Man's Lead Actress Rashida Jones
by Alex Billington
March 20, 2009
John Hamburg's comedy I Love You, Man hits theaters this weekend and leading the female side of the cast is the lovely Rashida Jones. Before walking in to see I Love You, Man, I didn't really know who she was, but after walking out, I already wanted to see more of her. Not only is she very funny, but she has such a great charm to her that we rarely see these days with actresses. Luckily I had the chance to talk with Rashida last week while she was out in Austin at SXSW promoting the film. And I've got to say, I don't think ever talked with an actress this nice and this wonderful ever, and I'm so glad I had this opportunity.
Rashida got her big break in acting with "Boston Public" in 2000, although she also appeared on Judd Apatow's "Freaks and Geeks". Since then she has appeared on "Chappelle's Show", "NY-LON", "Wanted", "Unhitched", "The Office", and Saturday Night Live. She has also appeared in movies like Full Frontal, Little Black Book, The Ten, and Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. In I Love You, Man she plays Paul Rudd's fiancé Zooey and provides such a wonderful dynamic playing off of both Rudd and Jason Segel.
What, in particular, interested you in this script?
Rashida Jones: You know, there's a lot of things, but the main things were: 1) It was hilarious, and it's- - I find it difficult to read a comedy script and know what it's gonna be. But then 2) Jason [Segel] and Paul [Rudd] were attached, which I knew immediately that it was gonna be even funnier than I would think. And then also, I feel like it's really hard to tell an original story in a comedy, and John Hamburg has really managed to do that and also make it feel organic, like it doesn't feel like a new broad concept it really feels like people you know. And that came through in the script.
And then the most important thing was the way women were represented was -- not that I'm some, you know, pioneer, but it's really hard to find a good part for a girl. It's really hard to not be wallpaper. And this character was really important to the plot, and dynamic and interesting and independent and outspoken, and has a point of view and a real relationship with her girlfriend and a real relationship with her fiancé. And that was just really appealing to me.
I think it's a testament to you abilities that you made your character stand out so much. In addition to Paul and Jason, I'm glad you had that role. You really added that dynamic to it.
Jones: Thank you. That's really nice of you. Thank you for saying that. I mean I, again, like I got -- it's almost like a cheat, because everybody around me was so great, but it felt good to be able to -- because I think, especially as an actress, you get parts and you're like okay, well this is, you know, point one percent of what I can do but I'm gonna do it and hopefully I'll do it well and I'll bring something to it. It was really nice to be able to have so much to work with at the beginning.
A lot of people have been referring to it as a Judd Apatow comedy, but without Judd Apatow's involvement. I think that's a good thing. Even though it doesn't have his name attached to it, it's a good thing to have his name be thrown around with it. Why do you think this has that Judd Apatow feel to it?
Jones: Well I mean first of all, how great to be compared to Judd Apatow movies. His movies are amazing and they do really well, people really like them. So that's -- I'll take that for sure. But then also, there is-- it's like the six degrees of Judd, like, Paul and Jason are obviously in a bunch of his films. They're like part of the players. And I've worked with Judd before a little bit and there's definitely -- people are right to compare the movie.
But there's something about that community that I find really satisfying. Like there's a comedy to community and the same people, you know, it's like having… The Princeton players were like -- the same people played parts over and over again. And you like the people and you trust that they're gonna make things funny and so you keep going back to watch them, you know. That's old school to me. I like that.
Would you say that the comedy or dialogue in this is a lot more realistic than other comedies we've seen?
Jones: Yeah, I do. I mean, I think John Hamburg really let us, once we got the script and we got the takes that were scripted, he kind of let us go off a little bit, and so I think the nature of the improvisational part of the movie makes you feel a little bit like you're hanging out with these people, you know. It feels like how you -- hopefully it feels like how you would talk to your friends.
Do you have an improv or a stand up background yourself?
Jones: I don't. I have -- I'm a comedy aficionado. I'm like a huge comedy geek. I follow stand up, love stand up, and sketch comedy, and have for like my entire life. I went to class, to Groundlings, once in my early 20s. I did not do very well. They did not pass me.
Jones: I know. And look at me now. No. But, you know, just doing it is really, it's sort of like there's… I get to improv with like the best improvisers in comedy. So I'm learning a lot. I'm learning a lot.
Who's your favorite stand up comic right now?
Jones: I'm a huge Louis C.K. fan. He drives me crazy, he's so funny. Dave Attell is -- will always have my heart. I don't know. I just like him for some reason. He just kills me. I'm trying to think of who else I like right now. I think Patton Oswalt's hilarious. He's so great. I don't know. And then, you know, those are -- like Louis and Dave Attell, I will watch any comedy special. I will see them when they're in town. Like those are like the two that just kill me.
With I Love You Man, did you let your character develop further on set, as in once you get into that relationship level with Paul, is that something that you did a lot with improv?
Jones: Yeah, well we also rehearsed with the director and we talked about what we wanted it to be like and what we didn't want it to be like. Because there was definitely a tendency, with my character, to be a little too naggy, you know, like you didn't want her to be controlling and you didn't want him to be too lame, too sensitive, too feminine. And so we really -- we tried to like add this element where you could tell that they're physically attracted to each other, like it's -- at the heart of it, you know, there's like a hot, sexy male female relationship, and then the other stuff, like the kind of sensitive, Sunday night movie, you know, HBO watching stuff, goes on top of that. So you don't feel like you're like "oh these saps, what are they doing, who cares."
How do you find the balance between actual comedy and the romantic elements in it, especially something like this, where the romance between you and Paul is there, but not necessarily the most important part of the story.
Jones: Right. Interesting. You know, I think, again, like this is gonna sound really bad, but you just have to focus on the reality of it I guess, you know, and make it as real as possible. So if we can make the romantic element feel real, things will only be funnier. Like when he messes up or when he brings -- when he goes out with these new guys or when he finds his real friend and it feels like a threat to the romance, it will only be funnier if you can believe the romance from the beginning.
So you've had a very good mixture of TV and film projects over your career. Is there one you prefer working on more than another? Is it just what comes at you?
Jones: You know, it's always nice as an actor to have a TV job because we don't get regular jobs very often. And it's nice to get your coffee and go to work every day and work with the same people for years. But it's so rare these days to be in a TV show that stays on the air for a long time. So like really "The Office" or like "Boston Public" were the closest I got to that. It's nice to settle into something, because there's so much unpredictability in acting. But at the same time, like to have that kind of intensive time to really work on characters like we did in I Love You Man is so great too. I mean, we got to do take after take after take after take, really figure out what works best. And with TV you don't generally have as much time to do that. There's always a clock ticking.
Is there something you look for, particularly, in the scripts or in the work you do in regards to stories or characters, or anything in particular you seek out?
Jones: Yeah, with comedy it's so hard to tell, because making somebody laugh is such a subjective experience. But I definitely look for a seed of something genuine. Like if -- I've been so fortunate, because the writers and directors that I've worked with, they're obsessed with having their characters feel real on some level. Like the guys at "The Office", who are now doing "Parks and Recreation", a new show I'm doing, they'll sacrifice story over character any day, like they just want their characters to feel real and they want the things that they do to be motivated. And that's, to me, like the logic of that is an absolutely necessary thing, for somebody to watch a movie and really be with you and to be able to make them laugh they have to be with you, you know. God that sounded so ridiculous, like…
I think it's a good point. Without naturally thinking about it, when you go in to see a movie, that really is what makes it work so well.
Jones: Yeah, and like the reason you like Jason's character so much in this movie is not because he's super honest and disgusted with women, you like it because you believe that that guy could exist.
Can you speak more about "Parks and Recreation"?
Jones: Yeah, it's about -- kind of about local government and all the bureaucracy and red tape that you are confronted by when you're trying to get a project done on a local level, and the characters that come out of that world. I play Ann. I'm a nurse and I have this construction pit in back of my house and it's -- my boyfriend has fallen in and broken both his legs, and I've been trying to get somebody to help me to fix it or whatever.
And I meet Amy Pohler's character, Leslie, and she -- we both have different agendas. I just want the damn thing fixed and she has a political agenda. But she decides that she also likes me and kind of wants to be my friend, and so we -- she vows to help me fix this pit and build a park in its place, which is a huge promise for anybody who actually has to get that done. It takes years and years and years, but she promises to do that. And I believe her and trust her and am excited by that, and I -- and we go off and try to do this thing together.
Is this like a single series or something that would be ongoing?
Jones: I hope it'll be ongoing. We're airing six episode starting on April 9th and then we'll see what happens, yeah.
Are there any other projects you have in the works coming up?
Jones: That's about it for now.
Jones: I'm sorry, is it not enough for you?
Well no, I loved seeing you in I Love You Man and I hope to see you more.
Jones: Oh, you're so sweet. Well I hope I can give you more. I gotta get myself some jobs. I vow to you, Alex, I will work for you.
In the next year I gotta see you on the big screen one more time!
Jones: Absolutely. I'll make sure that happens some how, some way.
If possible, can you name some of your favorite films of all time?
Jones: Oh my God, huge question. Broadcast News. Hold on. Waiting for Guffman…. Airplane. Oh the best, it's the best. It's still -- it's the best. Being There. The Graduate. Classic. This is so -- I literally feel like I'm on "Quiz Show" right now. I'm like sweating. Oh, why don't I know these things about myself? What do I buy? What do I have in my collection? What is -- because I don't buy that many DVDs. I'll only buy the DVDs that like I know I'll want to watch over and over and over again. Goodfellas. So good. Is that enough? I feel like that's enough.
That is definitely enough.
Jones: Glad we got through that.
Well thanks for answering and I'm glad to be able to talk with you.
Jones: Great to talk to you too. Have a great day and I'm sure we'll talk soon.
Thank you to Rashida Jones for this great interview and Tamar at Paramount for setting this up! If everyone I talked to was half as nice and half as charming as Rashida Jones, the world would be such a better place. I hope I get to see her on the big screen again soon!